Anybody who actually follows Italian politics can only watch that Jeremy Paxman interview with Silvio Berlusconi and shout at the screen: “Wrong unf**kable question, Paxo!”
And not because of the gimmick Paxman used to make sure this performance – if you missed it, Paxman asked the former Italian prime minister did once call German Chancellor Angela Merkel “an unf**kable lard-a**e” — would give extra publicity to his farewell month at Newsnight.
No, that is not what made it the wrong question. If a BBC interviewer, right now, this week, is going to ask Berlusconi about his relationship with Angela Merkel – as he should, for as Paxman himself said in the interview, “At this level of European politics, personal relationships are hugely important, aren’t they?” – he should have asked about persistent reports that Merkel helped topple the anti-euro Berlusconi’s elected government, a putsch that led to a succession of three Italian governments, none of which has been directly elected.
Remember, the first government after Berlusconi was led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and top member of the EU elite, who was parachuted into the job and was never elected by anyone.
Monti came to power in what looked like a collusion between Merkel, Giorgio Napolitano, the aged former communist who is president of Italy and who therefore has the power to appoint a prime minister, and the European Central Bank, led by Mario Draghi, an Italian who keeps a German pickelhaube, the spiked helmet traditionally worn by the German military in the 19th and early 20th century, on display, apparently to suggest to the Germans who control the EU that he is one of them.
Following a secret telephone call in 2011 – later leaked to the news media – Chancellor Merkel told President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy she was worried that Prime Minister Berlusconi wasn’t strong enough to deliver the kind of reforms in Italy that “Europe” wanted.
The old commie Napolitano got the message. He destabilised the prime minister at home, while the ECB got busy rocking the market in Italian bonds. Mr Berlusconi was forced out of office, and President Napolitano parachuted in the unelected choice of the euro-elite, former European Commissioner Mario Monti.
And this story is not old news, which the alleged comment about Merkel’s allure or lack of it certainly is, because just this month former US Treasury Tim Geithner published memoirs in which he suggested the US government had been approached to help force Berlusconi to resign in 2011 the midst of the euro crisis.
Excerpts from the book appeared in the Italian press just last week:
“At one point that fall, a few European officials approached us with a scheme to try to force Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi out of power; they wanted us to refuse to support IMF loans to Italy until he was gone,” Geithner wrote in his book, “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.”
“We told the President about this surprising invitation, but as helpful as it would have been to have better leadership in Europe, we couldn’t get involved in a scheme like that. ‘We can’t have his blood on our hands,’ I said,” according to a Reuters quote from the book.
Did not Paxman know about Geithner’s memoirs? And if Paxman didn’t, why didn’t one of the researchers at Newsnight know about Geithner’s account of a plot when they were working on the Berlusconi interview? Because just days ago Berlusconi repeated his accusations on Rai Italian state television that he had been forced out of office as the result of a plot by European Union officials.
Referring to Geithner’s account, he told Rai: “The plot is an extremely serious piece of news which confirms what I’ve been saying for some time.”
More, it has emerged this year that Mario Monti, the unelected former eurocrat who replaced him, had been sounded out about taking over the Rome government some months before Berlusconi was forced out, even though he was not even a member of the Italian parliament.
Many details of the background to the fall of the last democratically-elected government of Italy are known. Early 2012 a team from the Wall Street Journal carried out an investigation of how it was Berlusconi and his government were forced out. Yet the BBC ignored all this material and went for questions as to whether Berlusconi had ever called Merkel “a unf**kble lard-a**e.”
The question is irrelevant.
In an effort to get to something relevant, Berlusconi even teed-up the right question for Paxman, but Paxman didn’t grasp what was going on, or decided that all he wanted to do was reduce the interview into publicity-guaranteeing vulgar vocabulary and clichéd questions about bunga-bunga parties.
Here is how Berlusconi was trying to lead the dense Paxman to the meat and not the lard. Paxman asked, “What’s wrong with Italian politics?” and Berlusconi replied “Everything.”
The former prime minister paused and continued: “Italy is no longer a democracy. In the last 20 years, we’ve had four examples of coups d’état. Recently we’ve had three successive governments that were not directly elected. We’ve had Monti, Letta and Matteo Renzi.”
Yet the statement of that stunning fact – one of the most important countries in the EU had now had a series of three unelected prime ministers – went right past Paxman’s consciousness.
Berlusconi must have realised Paxo had done no real research for the interview. So he did everything short of holding up a studio cue card saying: “I’m going to say coups d’etat and you are going to realise this matters and pursue the issue.”
But, no. The evidence of a plot is a big enough story for the former US Secretary of the Treasury to use as a headline story in pushing his memoirs, it is a big enough story for the Wall Street Journal to turn loose its investigators on it for weeks, but Paxo only wants to wait for his chance to use dirty words.
Sorry, just why is anyone sad to see this amateur leave Newsnight?